Monday, 28 January 2013

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one

The quotation for today's blog entry is, surprisingly, not from a TV show or movie. No, this quotation is attributed to the one and only Albert Einstein and has some tangential bearing on the topic of this blog entry. Today is going to be a bit of a random round-up of things. Life has been doing its thing, interfering with the regular course of my blogging activities, as well as the recreational activities that lead to blogging. It has, however, occurred to me that I never fully summarised my thoughts and feelings on Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. So we're going to start there and work our way through the other random things I have to babble about. Because yes, it's random inane babbling time.

Now then. Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

My thoughts and feelings on this may be similar to my thoughts and feelings on the first two "episodes". Short and sweet. Blood and Chrome is very enjoyable and manages to do a lot in a small time-span. Luke Pasqualino pulled out a pretty damn good performance as a young Adama, considering where I'd seen him before and how unsure I was that he was the right choice for William Adama. Ben Cotton is a brilliant supporting lead as well, providing the requisite battle-hardened, war-weariness that was needed for an officer serving in the tenth year of the Cylon War.

Now my one continuing gripe with Blood and Chrome is the over-use of CGI. Pretty much all of the sets were CGI'd in some shape or form. Given that it's only a webseries, it can be forgiven. But I just didn't like the ways they changed my beloved Galactica. But as I said in my initial thoughts and feelings, I can get over it.

That one gripe aside, Blood and Chrome is a very worthy addition to the Battlestar Galactica canon. Particularly a scene in the final episode that I won't spoil, but does contain my favourite line of the whole webseries.

Next up is another series, but this time TV - The Unusuals. It's a cop show that ran for ten episodes in 2009. Set in New York City, it follows a group of detectives in the NYPD's 2nd Precinct. A complete bunch of mismatched, secretive yet talented and brilliant investigators. The main characters are Jason Walsh, a veteran of the 2nd played by Jeremy Renner, and his new partner Casey Shraeger, a recent transfer from the Vice Squad played by Amber Tamblyn.

In my eyes, The Unusuals was cruelly cancelled. I have only seen five episodes so far and they are all brilliant. The ensemble cast - which includes Harold Perrineau of Lost and Matrix fame and Adam Goldberg of Saving Private Ryan - are an absolutely brilliant mixture. It's a gem. And while I just said "cruelly cancelled", it might just be a stroke of luck, insofar as this gem won't have had the time to lose it's shine.

Now comes the real gushing. First up, the 2012 remake of Total Recall.

Many, many blog entries ago, I confronted the subject of remakes and nominated Total Recall as the one I had most faith in. Yesterday, I finally managed to get around to watching it. And it did not disappoint.

My biggest concern was the lack of Mars. For it was the secrets of what lay under Mars's surface that were contained in Douglas Quaid's (played then by Arnold Schwarzeneggar) mind. Well, they manage to tweak it and fit their own storyline, but still keep the flavour of the original 1990 Paul Verhoeven movie.

So, a brief note on plot - the time is never specified, but it's likely to be the 22nd Century. Earth has been ravaged by chemical warfare and only two habitable regions remain - the United Federation of Britain, which comprises most of Europe, and the Colony, which constitutes lonely Australia. The remnants of humanity are crammed into these areas, which living space becoming an incredibly precious resource. The Federation and the Colony are connected by the Fall, a massive (essentially elevator) shaft that goes directly through the Earth, passing right next to the core. The Federation is rich and the Colony is poor. Resistance fighters fight under the slogan "The Fall Enslaves Us All", trying to end the Federation's dominance. And about to be caught in the middle of it all - Douglas Quaid, a Colony-born and dwelling factory worker, who lives in blissful ignorance with his paramedic wife, Lori.

Fans of the original 1990 will know exactly where this is going and I don't want to risk spoiling anything, so I'm going to babble tangentially about the film in very general terms. It was brilliant. It contains enough small references to the original to cause the odd giggle or two, as well as many, many parallel scenes/scenarios which I found somewhat comforting but also dealt with in the context of the film itself, not just trying to emulate its predecessor. Colin Farrell was on absolutely top form as Douglas Quaid, with Kate Beckinsale brilliantly portraying his wife and Jessica Biel slipping in quite nicely as Melina. John Cho also makes a neat little appearance as the man at Rekall, the false-memory company. Finally, there's much kudos for Bryan Cranston as Vilos Cohaagen. Stepping into Ronny Cox's exceptionally brilliant villainous shoes was never going to be easy, but by gods the man does it well.

Kudos must also go to the production design team (and by extension the Special Effects team as well) for the beautiful set pieces and urban landscapes developed for the movie. All in all, Total Recall (2012) is a damn fine movie. Good job, ladies and menfolk.

Last and in absolutely no ways least, is Dredd.

Karl Urban deserves a whole frak ton of kudos here. The last time the character of Judge Dredd had been adapted for the big screen...well, let's put it this way - I watched it in my teens and enjoyed it. When it was on TV around the time the new Dredd was released, I couldn't do it. I'd been spoiled by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Too many good comic book movies highlighted that it...was bad. Beyond redemption. Luckily for Karl Urban and team behind Dredd, I don't feel they were seeking redemption. They were happy to forget their predecessor and do their own thing.

I must say, I'm not at all fussed about 3D. I think it's a bit of a fad and honestly, I'm hoping it'll pass pretty soon. But by gods I wish I'd seen Dredd in 3D. Now I watched Dredd after watching the aforementioned Total Recall and I'll be honest, it doesn't have the same depth of storyline. But it doesn't need it. Dredd is a straight-up, honest and solid action movie. Karl Urban...he is the frakking man. He is absolutely fantastic as Judge Dredd, solidifying my respect for him as an actor. Not that it needed much help, but still. And also, Olivia Thirlby. The only other film I've seen her in is Juno. And I honestly didn't hugely enjoy her character, though she didn't make me hate her either. But as psychic rookie Cassandra Anderson...she is amazing. Her journey through the movie and her interactions with Dredd are just...brilliant. My gods, I can't even gush eloquently anymore.

It appears, all there is to say, is that Dredd is a damn, damn good and enjoyable movie. Oh, but one last thing...

Lena Headey is frakking badass as the main villain. Not that anyone familiar with her performances as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones would have any cause at all to worry.

So there we have it. Much rambling and gushing. Maybe next time I'll be less excitable and a little more coherent...

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Curled Up Next to the Fire: The Scar

I've been curled next to this particular fire for a good long while. I have quite the stack of books to get through and after the delightful giggle fits of Guards! Guards! and the less-than-gigglesome, mildly disappointing and unspoken passage through Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, I decided that I need to tackle one of the larger books in my pile. A book I had been greatly looking forward to, given my experiences with the author's past offerings.

I refer to, in this instance, the 795 pages of awesome brilliance collectively known as The Scar.

The second offering in China Miéville's Bas-Lag trilogy (the first being Perdido Street Station, discussed with giddy excitement here), The Scar tells the story of Bellis Coldwine, New Crobuzon citizen, running from her demons, setting out across the sea to escape the invisible hand of the New Crobuzon militia, only to find herself the unwitting citizen of the floating city of ships, Armada.

Unlike Perdido Street Station, The Scar was not so much of a slow burn. The circumstances surrounding Bellis's arrival on Armada dictated that it could not be - the ship carrying her to the New Crobuzon colony of Nova Esperium being captured by pirates...that could not be handled in a sedate manner. From there, The Scar calmly sails on, unravelling this new aspect of the world, taking us aware from the New Crobuzon we had met in Perdido Street Station and introducing us to the wonders of Bas-Lag's oceans and its most complicated inhabitants, the citizens of Armada.

Given that this is book two in a trilogy, it's going to be hard not to put it next to its predecessor and draw comparisons. The biggest comparison I wish to draw is character. I babbled for a whole paragraph about how New Crobuzon, the city at the heart of Perdido Street Station and the most powerful city in all of Bas-Lag, was one of the novel's most intriguing and brilliant characters. Reading The Scar, Armada didn't feel like that. Armada was definitely a place, a setting. Fascinating in its own right, but not leaping out of the page like its own character. But, that said, Miéville's talent and brilliance created two characters that kept me thoroughly enthralled.

While the primary narrators, runaway Bellis Coldwine and Remade prisoner Tanner Sack, hold some sway and a lot of interest, it is two characters who play a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue who I wanted to know more about. Two characters who were only ever seen through the eyes of others, two men at the heart of Armada's intricate power system.

Uther Doul - bodyguard to two of Armada's most twisted rulers and the Brucolac, a vampir, ruler in his own right, master of his own patch of Armada's collection of ships.

Once again, China Miéville has proven himself to be an absolute master of language and master of intrigue. Thus far, (counting The Scar) I have read four of Miéville's books. He has yet to disappoint me. The Scar, while not maintaining a roaring, relentless pace, pulled me along, snared me in a way that made me unable to turn my back on it for long. Today, it reached a point so close to the end that I had no choice but to sit down with a pot of Moroccan Mint tea (officially designated my Reading Tea) and blast through the last one hundred pages. And what an incredible one hundred they were. The whole 795 pages were incredible. There is something subtly seductive about Miéville's writing, that strange, inescapable lure of the fantastical that once it has you, you'll never turn back.

I keep talking in vague circles, not exactly pinpointing anything, with the exception of two brilliant characters. While it's easy to pinpoint and highlight those characters, while the delicious brilliance of Uther Doul and the Brucolac cannot be denied - the giddy excitement, the enticing snippets fed to the reader enough to slake the immediate thirst, but not enough to satisfy the growing hunger until the end is reached - they are part of an incredible whole. The Scar is a triumph, another glowing gold star next to China Miéville's record. There is one last offering the Bas-Lag trilogy, Iron Council. It sits in my book collection, awaiting its turn. A turn that will be a long while, as it is the latest purchase that must sit at the bottom of a eight/nine-book pile, whispering, suggesting, influencing and insinuating, a siren call that beckons me through the pile, telling me I must read on. As Armada trawls the oceans of Bas-Lag, I must trawl urban landscapes, vast starfields and oceans blue, towards the next offering of brilliance.

I will take this moment to admit that, under the influence of three mugs of tea, I am operating on a caffeine-fuelled hyperactivity - albeit a subtle, pervasive prodding one - that means I'm not 100% sure what I'm babbling about. But it sounds vaguely good.

In some form of summation, The Scar is absolutely brilliant. Equal to Perdido Street Station, maybe even with a slight edge on its predecessor. In a few months' time, we'll see what Iron Council has to say for itself. Until then, the fires will be stoked and I shall be comfortably curled up, indulging in worlds familiar and fantastical.